At The Lodging Conference 2019, student attendees received scholarships from the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation (AHELF). The AHLEF scholarship recipients recently spoke with LODGING about their insights from the 25th Lodging Conference and the scholarships’ impact on their educations.
What does the AHLEF scholarship mean to you?
Jessie Cheon: I’ve always wanted to attend college and get a higher education, but as an unaccompanied youth in high school, I wasn’t confident on how I was going to pay for my college education. The scholarship has allowed me to attend college without as much difficulty and inspired me to give back to the community once I become the successful woman that AHLEF is helping me to become.
Grace Zantua: By receiving the Hyatt Hotels Fund for Minority Lodging Management Students scholarship, my financial burden has decreased, allowing me to focus more on the most important aspect of school—learning. I hope one day I will be able to help students achieve their goals just as AHLEF has helped me.
Anish Sharan: Words cannot describe what the AHLEF scholarship has meant for me. These awards serve as a constant reminder that hard work and dedication continues to make a world of a difference in my path to success. One day, I hope to give back to the foundation and help someone the same way I was helped through AHLEF.
Alejandro Flores: To me, it means security. It means that I will be able to focus more on school. It gives me the opportunity to learn as much as I can instead of working two jobs to pay for school.
What was the moment when you knew that hospitality was the career for you?
Selene Gabriela Gonzalez: I felt like I knew that hospitality was the career for me since my first day as a front desk agent. That moment was solidified one month later when I received my first guest thank you letter. It was heartwarming. I had found my passion. From that day forward, I have worked hard to gain as much knowledge as I possibly can to be the best that I can be.
Dashon Murray: Working in the hospitality industry isn’t an ideal job for some individuals, but I love working in a fast-paced environment. And every day in the hospitality industry is typically different.
Mackenzie Yandell: I chose to study hospitality because it combines my passions for leadership, world travel, and lodging management. Between the classroom components, internship requirements, and student-led events, I have been fortunate enough to develop skills that will allow me to find success within this industry. I hope to use these skills to create experiences for other guests that were as unforgettable as mine.
Jose Betancourt: I’d always been a competitive person, and my family has always taught me that if I’m going to do something, I should be the best at it. I began to take the steps to obtain a degree in hotel and restaurant management because I knew that if at some point I wanted to become a general manager or take an executive-level position, it would be beneficial for me to learn what I am doing in a more formal way.
How did what you learned at the Lodging Conference relate to your experience as a student?
Jessie Cheon: While at The Lodging Conference, I was able to exchange ideas and learn more about all aspects of the hospitality industry. By connecting with attendees who have gone through mergers, acquisitions, hotel development, and more, they told us their successes and failures so we avoid making the same mistakes they have made. I am honored to have been part of this process of networking, learning, and sharing each other’s knowledge.
Dashon Murray: Each day was different. From the various Think-Tank sessions, meals, themed events, and activities that were planned for us, I was able to meet and connect with industry professionals, investors, buyers, developers, CEOs, and professors. After attending the conference, I’ve learned how to use all of my resources. I can’t express my gratitude enough to AHLEF for being one of the selectees invited to attend such a spectacular conference. I’m thankful for the connections and friendships I made throughout the week.
What do you like the most about the hotel industry?
Selene Gabriela Gonzales: What I like most about the hotel industry is that I get to meet and interact with new people every day. Having the opportunity to create new memories for my guests and make their trips special is something that I thrive on. The hotel industry has helped me find who I am, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for me in this industry.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Alejandro Flores: My biggest takeaway from the conference was being able to learn from top-level executives and owners about their experiences and thoughts on the industry. From revenue management to interior design to labor issues, I learned a lot that I will apply in the future. Where I see myself in 5 years is working in a hotel as a department head. I hope to grow quickly up-the-ranks in operations.
Mackenzie Yandell: I would love to broaden my skillset and pursue a career in revenue management upon graduation. Another goal I aim to achieve is attending graduate school to pursue an MBA or MS in hospitality management so that I may continue deepening my expertise and broadening my perspective of the lodging industry. Above all, in the next five years, I want to work for a company where it’s possible to build a career in management and continue developing my skills.
What have you enjoyed the most about your studies in hospitality?
Jose Betancourt: My biggest takeaway from The Lodging Conference would be that it has inspired me to one day open my own property. It would have taken a long time to be able to see what is involved in building my own hotel, and this experience was like a quick submersion into that world. What I’ve enjoyed most about my studies in hospitality is the various opportunities that we’ve had to attend conferences, network with people in the industry, and be able to hear their perspectives from their experiences.